My Fall Rewind: An Ode to Self-Care 40-“Pups”

For a solid year, I have watched my nephew tilt his head and stretch his neck, to measure how much more he had to go before he stood taller than me. At the start of the summer, I still had him by a half inch. By the time July came around, the roles had reversed, and I was the shorter one.

When we stood next to each other and it had become official he was taller, I told him “You can be taller than me; but you’ll look up to me for the rest of your life.” It was a celebratory jab at his expense; but I meant it.

No matter his vantage point, I am aware my nephew has placed a target on my back for years. There were countless days of me doing nothing short of beating the dog shit out of my boy on a basketball court or throwing a baseball at his head so hard, all he could do was duck out of fear. However, there is a stark contrast between our basketball games in the front driveway and baseball tosses in the backyard.

Our games of one-on-one were nothing short of proverbial bloodbaths.

“You want to play 21?” my nephew asked me on a summer afternoon as I shot hoops and listened to  It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot . My nephew’s friend rode his bike to the house and joined us.

“Sure” I said. My nephew stepped to the free throw line to break ice and get the game started. My boy is nice. No matter his vantage point, I’ve had a target on my back since he was much shorter, and I didn’t let up on him in games of one-on-one. He has salivated over the day he stood taller than me and avenge himself.

My knees and lung capacity were in 2020; but DMX was on, so my mind was in 1998 and I was one of the best stretch-forwards at my age in my neighborhood. I grabbed one rebound and became the kid from Cambria Heights who played basketball every morning and afternoon with his middle school friends from Lefrak City; “Get At Me Dog” was the soundtrack to many-a-kids’ ass-whoopings at IS 227.

…this right here is my clan I still consider some of my closest friends.

Am I my brothers’ keeper? I’d like to think so. Tried and true, I am kept by my brothers. I’m going to keep this introduction short because I have a lot to say about Fam Comes First:

If there is one person in the crew, I must remain friends with until the day I die, it is 360; he knows too much. He is mine-and almost all of our-barber/therapist. He’s a great listener and facilitator. As much as he is a master craftsman with his profession, I am as entertained when I watch him turn mundane conversation into an experience where everyone who sits in his chair spills their guts to him. The price list on his wall may not say it; but his customers pay for of haircuts and sound advice.

In 1999, Deron signed in every yearbook “One day you will see me in movies;” and it has happened. We all proudly watched our brother on Syfy’s Z Nation. I don’t think Deron has ever heard a joke he hasn’t found hilarious and it’s one of his most loveable traits. If I ever have a bad day, all I have to do is tell Deron a joke and he bursts out laughing in a means which will not only cause you to laugh; but feel good about yourself because it’s genuine.

Early has always been the life of the party. When he is around, there will be loud laughter, and lots of shit talked. He was the first person I met in middle school, on the first day of orientation in 1996. Our dynamic and personalities can be described in the way we dress because he wears red as much as I don royal blue. Both colors are bold, yet one gives one is representative of excitement and the other calm. Since the sixth grade, he has always encouraged me to break out of my nonchalant shell. Whenever I write and post an essay or article, he is the first to share and repost, with a quote, which informs me he read the whole thing.

Fritz gets along with everyone; I can’t think of a time I have ever seen him angry. He is the funny one. His creativity drives him to drive any and everything which allows him to express himself. A few of months ago, a long conversation about music prompted a one-off studio session, for the sake of fun. Since then, we have recorded several, started an album, and shot a music video. He is responsible for me making music again. I can’t thank him enough for it.

It would not be a reach to say Gabe-Real is the sole introvert of our collective. Despite his label as “The Quiet One,” Gabe’s other moniker is derived from the Dos Equis spokesperson, “The Most Interesting Man in the World.” In 35 years, he has lived several lives. He became a pescatarian as a teenager. Over a decade ago, he was one the first producers to create videos of himself and upload them to YouTube; I once posted a picture of my longtime friend on social media and a friend commented they were a fan of his work. Since then, he has become an executive at a tech company and can posts stylishly, well-produced pictures from his travels all over the world. Of everyone in the set, Gabe is the one I’m closest to and one of Cydney’s godfathers.

Boog is the nurturer. Out of the clear blue sky, he calls everyone to check up on us and ask questions like “How’s you mom doing?” and genuinely means it. He will ask this and have never met your mom or heard you say a word about her. Whenever there is a skirmish, he is the one to call everyone up, listen to all sides of a story, and attempt to mediate. More than anyone else, Boogie is the one who knows and reminds us our sum is greater than its individual parts. He is also someone I would never want to fight.

K Starr is another person I have never, ever seen agitated. He is the philosopher of the group, perhaps the reason he’s lived up to his nickname “Coach K.” Except for sports conversations, his often-objective viewpoint on the world can be summed up with a phrase he will often say, “everything is relative.” One day, he told all of us “I started seeing a therapist and it’s been great. I gave her all of your names and to expect phone calls from y’all.” This is how and where my journey began and why I have written all of these essays, so far. It is also good to have a good friend to converse with about new things we have learned about ourselves in our sessions. K will always have a new book to share; many I have referenced over the years in my essays were referred by him.

KK is the nice guy. He is always polite, has a smile on his face, and happy to see everyone. Brief cameos to his apartment always turn into long conversations. Eight years ago, shortly after I moved back to New York, all of us went to SOB’s to support 360 and K Starr in a showcase. Right before they got onstage, I had a conversation abut their music. Without responding to any of my words, KK said “I’m looking forward to you rapping again.” I needed those words from him. I am certain he does not recall this; but I have remembered them, and it plays in my head every time self-doubt and writer’s block have creeped up in my mind. I have told myself “I am going to make and release music so I can fulfill my guy’s request.”

There is no alpha dog or head of our clique; but Kalique is the heart. His personality has always been larger-than-life. As we have evolved, “Killa” has become one of my favorite people to talk all things #girldad. The father of a blended family, I tip my hat off to him for being the hardest worker in the room. His daughter, Ava, and Cydney are a few months apart in age; we often laugh and joke about how we have experienced the same highs and lows. For the longest, I have wanted him to publicly share his one-of-a-kind opinions on fatherhood; I know he would do well in the space.

“A$AP” Kev has always been the freshest. When everyone wore throwback jerseys and baggy denim, Kevin was in fitted clothing and sweaters. Whatever trend will come to be ten years in the future, it is Kev 3000’s present. He has always been comfortable in his own skin; and I admire this about him. One day, I would like to dress as Kevin for Halloween; but I would have absolutely no idea where he finds his ensembles.

Every time I have a conversation with Mike, I learn something new about him and myself. A casual conversation will blow my mind at his wealth of knowledge and life experiences. Unless one of us gets married, the place where most of us will convene is whenever Mike hosts us for an event. Always willing to share, if you need something, he knows someone who does it, and will get you a great deal. Last year, I called him in the middle of a snowstorm, saying I needed some assistance. Within an hour, he was in front of my house, asking me “What do you need?”

Duane “Stack Mumbles” is the OG. You name something, he has already been there and lived it a few times. Mumz has everyone’s back. Some years ago, I lost my job and was in a dark space and I explained it to our group chat. A week later, he told me to make sure I found my way to his wife’s baby shower. While the night was dedicated to him and his expanding family, he pulled me aside, slid me the business card of the head recruiter at his consulting firm, and said “She’s waiting for your email.” He did not know the woman; he made the connection for me.

Rob is the wild one. If you don’t want to have a good time, Rob is not the person hang out with. For a certain period in life, Wildman X was the one who took his shirt off at every party, for years. In real life, he’s a pretty quiet guy. Outside of Boog, Rush is the other guy who out of nowhere, will reach out to just about everyone, to see how they are doing and tell us how much he loves us all. The night my grandmother passed was the first time I had seen Rush in years. Within a couple of minutes and mostly unsaid words, it felt as if we’d been in contact every day. Rob, call me.

Me? I’m the guy in our band of brothers who talks shit solely for the sake of talking shit. I always have something to say and it is often out of left field and left of center. Nonetheless, I don’t have to explain what, how, or why I say the things I say because my brothers get me, even when they don’t.

There are many other friends and acquaintances who are affiliated and very much so members of FCF, Takeova, Big Ant, Vel; everyone’s wives, girlfriends, and our pups. I truly love all of y’all.

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